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Alice Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston. She was the eldest child of U. President Theodore Roosevelt and the only child of Roosevelt and his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee. Alice led an unconventional and controversial life. Alice Lee Roosevelt was born in the Roosevelt family home at 6 West 57th St.
Her mother, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, was a Boston banking heiress. Two days after her birth, in the same house, her mother died of undiagnosed kidney failure. Eleven hours earlier that day, Theodore’s mother Martha Stewart “Mittie” Bulloch had also died, of typhoid fever. Theodore was rendered so distraught by his wife’s death that he could not bear to think about her. He almost never spoke of her again, would not allow her to be mentioned in his presence, and even omitted her name from his autobiography. Therefore, his daughter Alice was called “Baby Lee” instead of her name.
She continued this practice late in life, often preferring to be called “Mrs. Seeking solace, Theodore retreated from his life in New York and headed west, where he spent two years traveling and living on his ranch in North Dakota. He left his infant daughter in the care of his sister Anna, known as “Bamie” or “Bye”. There are letters to Bamie that reveal Theodore’s concern for his daughter. Bamie had a significant influence on young Alice, who would later speak of her admiringly: “If auntie Bye had been a man, she would have been president.
Bamie took her into her watchful care, moving Alice into her book-filled Manhattan house, until Theodore married again. After Theodore’s marriage to Edith Kermit Carow, Alice was raised by her father and stepmother. There were tensions in the relationship between young Alice and her stepmother, who had known her husband’s previous wife and made it clear that she regarded her predecessor as a beautiful, but insipid, childlike fool. Edith once angrily told her that if Alice Hathaway Lee had lived, she would have bored Theodore to death.
Alice, frequently spoiled with gifts, matured into young womanhood, and became known as a great beauty like her mother. However, continuing tension with her stepmother and prolonged separation and limited attention from her father created a young woman who was as independent and outgoing as she was self-confident and calculating. When her father was Governor of New York, he and his wife proposed that Alice attend a conservative school for girls in New York City. In later years, Alice expressed admiration for her stepmother’s sense of humor and stated that they had shared similar literary tastes. In her autobiography Crowded Hours, Alice wrote of Edith Carow, “That I was the child of another marriage was a simple fact and made a situation that had to be coped with, and Mother coped with it with a fairness and charm and intelligence which she has to a greater degree than almost any one else I know.
Alice Roosevelt, formal portrait by Theobald Chartran 1901. Alice Roosevelt with her dog, Leo, a long-haired Chihuahua. During the cruise to Japan, Alice jumped into the ship’s pool fully clothed, and coaxed Congressman Longworth to join her in the water. Years later Bobby Kennedy would chide her about the incident, saying it was outrageous for the time, to which the by-then-octogenarian Alice replied that it would only have been outrageous had she removed her clothes.